Sunday, March 7, 2010

We Still Need You, Klamath Farmers

We Still Need You, Klamath Farmers

March 7, 2010

By Julie Kay Smithson

Nine years after the historic call for help emanated from Klamath Falls, Oregon -- a call answered by Americans from all walks of life and places as distant as Ohio, over 2,200 miles east -- another crisis looms. Those in positions of power are grinning from ear-to-ear at "historic signing ceremonies." They chortle with glee at how their "collaboration and "consensus-driven stakeholder process" has been "inked."

Those few letter writers who continue to stand against the removal of the four dams on the Klamath River -- and the three Oregon elected officials who've never wavered in their stand to protect the promises made to those on the Klamath Project -- are being marginalized by a media that seems to have had its loyalty bought and paid for.

The voices of the original lottery winners have been largely silenced by age and death, but their descendants' voices may have been silenced by deceit and coercion.

No dictionary perused online or in hard copy has yet to yield synonyms tying words like "independence," "versatility," "freedom," "property rights," "resource utilization," etc., to "collaboration," "consensus," "stakeholder," etc.

There are some situations where agreement between factions can never be reached. One such situation was the lords and serfs of Europe. Those that chafed under the heavy hand of the land-LORDs had few options and none that involved remaining in their native lands. A small number of these moxie- and hope-filled, courageous souls set out from "the other side of the pond" on a journey to America, a place about which they had heretofore only known in dreams. The perils known to these immigrants were many -- from dying aboard ship from a wide variety of maladies, not the least of which was malnutrition, dysentery, etc., to surviving the journey only to perish before emerging from the indentured servitude which had purchased their passage to a new land.

The settling of America was fraught with untold dangers. Starvation happened to pioneers. So did dying of thirst or succumbing to fevers and diseases for which there were no easily-procured remedies. Getting to America's eastern shore was tough enough. Making it all the way to Oregon required many more of God's blessings and much privation. The Western Migration required something in the way of promise in order to lure men to leave their safer, but poorer, homes in the East. Those married men that made the journey had to scrimp and save in order to book passage for their families to join them. Single men had to first conquer places -- "stake their claim," as it were -- before they could dream of marrying and raising families. Viewing old photographs of these settlers is looking into faces made tired and old by the demands made to simply survive.

The Klamath Project was a promise, from the federal government to the lottery winners / war veterans who sought to make a forever home in the Klamath Basin of northern California and southern Oregon. Both sides promised something. The federal government, in far-off Washington, D.C., promised the winners of these Project Lands water "in perpetuity" in exchange for the promise to transform unproductive high desert land into productive, thriving farm and ranchland. The high desert of this region presented its own brand of challenges. Not only was it dependent upon snowpack for irrigation water during the growing season, but it was also a place where the temperatures meant frost in virtually every month. Growing food crops was not as easy as it was for farmers in the Midwest, who had a more temperate, longer growing season and more abundant rainfall. The promise of water in exchange for the promise to wrest fertile food-growing was inextricably entwined. It was not possible to deliver economic prosperity through farming and ranching, without the promise of water "in perpetuity."

When did the government's promise of water get broken? That answer is not nearly as important as the fact that the promise WAS broken and continues to be broken, year after frightening, disheartening, soul-crumbling year.

Did the Klamath Project farmers ever break their promise? No. They never did. However, they can no longer raise food and fiber to feed and shelter America if the other promiser -- the federal government -- reneges on its promise. Now that four or even five generations of blood, sweat and tears equity have been willingly put into this place beloved to so many as simply "the Klamath," a government, with malice aforethought, has broken its promise and levied the ultimate fine upon the people of the Klamath Basin and Project: the cessation of agriculture, ranching and the vibrant economy of this most special place located in the high desert of the Pacific Northwest.

How can such a terrible death knell sound in such a place without the population raising a hue and cry the likes of which would carry clearly all the way to Washington in the District of Columbia? How, indeed. Language deception was truly a weapon of mass destruction, the likes of which is yet to be seen, but which is coming like a runaway freight train. Using words that these honest Klamath Project people had been taught to trust, their property rights -- in the form of their economic freedom and prosperity -- have been taken. Those drafting the "agreements" have an intimate, professional knowledge of how to word phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and binding agreements, so those whose rights are being "rurally cleansed" barely realize what is happening ... until it's a "done deal."

The volatility of the Klamath River -- sometimes a drunken sluggard filled with algae-growing warm water, sometimes a raging bull goring all in its flooding path -- needed damming. This place of temperature swings, inversion layers, frost and freeze, heat and drought, needed people with resilience, strength of character and the sticktuitiveness to make of the Klamath Basin a place that not only could feed itself, but could also feed much of a nation from its bounty. Klamath Pearl potatoes, horseradish, mint, onions, hay, beef, and so much more, were grown and harvested, supporting with quiet pride a place that began with a government promise and a lottery.

Perhaps none will dare call it a terrible crime, but crime it is, for in its wake, the "restoration agreement" will leave a place that once knew the caring and devoted hand of the farmer, the appreciation of the farmer's wife and children, who were able to buy yard goods and little luxuries -- and even college and businesses of their own! -- again barren and bereft of the fertile loins of the Klamath dirt, needing only water and hard, honest work to bring forth property rights and freedom.

A promise is a promise. A broken promise is a broken promise. Those who did not stand at the "A" Canal Headgates and drink in the sights, sounds and concentrated patriotism distilled in that place, can never know how great was the promise, how terrible the broken promise.

Surely at the last moment, more will see what has been done and move to rectify it. Surely God will once again smile on the Klamath Basin. Surely the promise must be made to stand and the promise breakers must not be allowed one more meal of Klamath Project-grown food.

Let them eat cake, but let them eat it somewhere else. They have no right to a piece of the pie that they never earned and never deserved.

Those brave farmers that voluntarily left the "A" Canal Headgates when 9-1-1 happened, kept their promise, even knowing the track record of other party that promised water for the Klamath Project "in perpetuity."

We in America need the Klamath Basin farmers, their friends and families to again unite. They have helped feed us, in America, for a hundred years. We cannot afford to have their voices -- and the Klamath Project -- silenced by broken promises. We need the food produced in the Klamath Basin, but perhaps even more, we need the backbone of those Klamath farmers, who quietly helped care for America, keeping their promise, for a hundred years.

1,351 words.

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